It’s pos­si­ble that leg­gings are the fu­ture. Deal with it.

The Charlotte Observer (Sunday) - - Carolina Living - BY VANESSA FRIED­MAN New York Times

When did leg­gings make the leap from gar­ment to cul­tural light­ning rod? For what are es­sen­tially stretchy foot­less tights in a seem­ingly end­less ar­ray of pat­terns and col­ors, they have been an un­ex­pected source of con­tro­versy.

The lat­est up­roar came last week. Maryann White, the mother of four sons, wrote a let­ter to The Ob­server, the school news­pa­per for both the Uni­ver­sity of Notre Dame and the nearby women’s col­lege St. Mary’s, ask­ing fe­male stu­dents to ig­nore fash­ion and stop wear­ing leg­gings. It was for their own as well as the greater good, she sug­gested, in part be­cause leg­gings made it hard for men to con­trol them­selves.

The you-wear-it/ you’re-ask­ing-for-it im­pli­ca­tion of the let­ter, not to men­tion the sheer idea of cen­sor­ing cloth­ing, set off the pre­dictable firestorm of protest, both on cam­pus and off.

For two days stu­dents wore leg­gings in a show of group de­fi­ance, there was a #leg­gings­dayND hash­tag on Twit­ter, and as­sorted men and women posted pic­tures of them­selves in sol­i­dar­ity with leg­gings wear­ers.

By Fri­day The Ob­server had another piece, this one from the ed­i­tors in re­sponse to the furor, say­ing: “Hav­ing re­ceived over 35 let­ters to The Ob­server, in ad­di­tion to the count­less ver­bal com­ments, tweets, memes and class dis­cus­sions about Mon­day’s let­ter, we have been as­ton­ished by the con­ver­sa­tions the leg­gings piece has sparked.” Mean­while, those wider con­ver­sa­tions con­tin­ued over the week­end.

This fol­lows a 2017 United Air­lines in­ci­dent when two teenagers who were “pass travelers” (a cat­e­gory that in­cludes rel­a­tives of air­line em­ploy­ees) were pre­vented from fly­ing be­cause they were wear­ing leg­gings. Ob­servers com­plained, so­cial me­dia got up in arms, and the mak­ers of leg­gings had a field day; Puma, for ex­am­ple, jumped into the fray and bur­nished its im­age by of­fer­ing a 20 per­cent dis­count on leg­gings to any­one pre­sent­ing a United ticket.

And that in turn punc­tu­ated the end­less de­bate among par­ents and schools and stu­dents that can be summed up as “leg­gings-are-not-pants/ yes-they-are.”

In gen­eral this ex­is­ten­tial in­ter­ro­ga­tion of the soul of a gar­ment cen­ters on women, women’s bod­ies and the gen­eral dis­com­fort with see­ing too much of them, or be­liev­ing you are.

That’s cer­tainly where White was go­ing with her let­ter, and it’s gen­er­ally the po­lit­i­cal of­fense used by those who are on the pro-leg­gings side: How dare you ac­cuse me of dress­ing to se­duce.

But leg­gings be­gan their rise to wardrobe dom­i­na­tion with the ad­vent of com­fort cul­ture: the post-ca­sual Fri­day turn-of-the-mil­len­nium move away from for­mal­ity that picked up steam with the rise of fleece-wear­ing hedge fun­ders, the fall of Old Wall Street and the fetishiza­tion of Sil­i­con Val­ley’s hood­ies- and Te­va­clad ge­niuses, and be­came even more pro­nounced un­der the in­flu­ence of the well­ness move­ment.

Leg­gings also func­tion dif­fer­ently for dif­fer­ent age groups. For Gen Y, they tend to be life­style sig­ni­fiers that have more to do with health and ac­tiv­ity than, say, ev­ery­day work­wear; for Gen Z-ers, who largely re­ject uni­for­mity and tra­di­tional la­bels, they are sim­ply a ba­sic, the equiv­a­lent of jeans. They are some­thing you put on with­out thought.

Which is to say, leg­gings are about a lot of things, and sex may be the least of them – if sex plays any role at all.

One thing that was strik­ing about the Notre Dame protest was the re­jec­tion of what they saw as the tra­di­tional gen­der as­sump­tions in­volved. Leg­gings are not the sole prov­ince of the siren fe­male was the idea.

In their ed­i­to­rial, The Ob­server’s writ­ers asked, “Why has the legging con­tro­versy gen­er­ated a larger im­pact than other con­tro­ver­sial top­ics? ”

The truth is, it’s pos­si­ble leg­gings may be sim­ply stand­ing in for other is­sues. One of the great gotchas of fash­ion is that what may ap­pear su­per­fi­cial or unim­por­tant is, in fact, rep­re­sen­ta­tive of a more com­pli­cated, harder to ex­press re­al­ity (iden­tity). This is what gives clothes their power.

As a re­sult, what the leg­gings up­roar may have ex­posed is not so much any­one’s physique per se but rather a cul­tural fault line that runs through gen­er­a­tions.

But this cloth­ing choice is not go­ing away any time soon. All this sug­gests that the Notre Dame up­roar may not be a fluke but a har­bin­ger.

JOSHUA LOTT NYT file photo

A woman wears capri leg­gings to a yoga class. For what are es­sen­tially stretchy foot­less tights in a seem­ingly end­less ar­ray of pat­terns and col­ors, leg­gings have been an un­ex­pected source of con­tro­versy.

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